Krakow is an ideal destination for a city break, offering the ideal blend of culture, heritage, nightlife and beautiful surroundings. Krakow is the cultural and historical gem in Poland's tourist industry crown, and it's a great choice if you're looking for a place where you can explore historic castles, bustling market stands and majestic churches, while enjoying an active nightlife scene when the night falls. One of the city's main draws for visitors is its stunning architecture, with numerous historic buildings dotting the city's landscape. The cityscape is dominated by the Royal Wawel Castle, an important symbol of Poland's national identity. There's other reminders of the city's fortified past in the form of the Barbican, an imposing medieval bastion with no less than seven turrets. The monumental earthen mound of Kosciuszko is one of Krakow's most memorable and distinctive landmarks, set in the city suburbs.
Krakow is an essential holiday destination if you want to learn about Jewish history and culture as there's a number of very important historic attractions and places of interest to visit here including the former Austro-Hungarian region of Galicia's Jewish Museum and the famous Schindler's Factory. At the National Museum you'll find a wide range of artefacts and paintings that reflect the history of Poland and the Jewish people, while you can immerse yourself in Jewish culture at Izaak's Synagogue, the city's largest synagogue. If you're keen to enjoy places of natural beauty, visit Krakow's answer to the Alps, Zakopane. This haven for snowboarders and skiers is located in the beautiful Tatra Mountains and has facilities for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels, as well as yearly ski-jumping competitions. The city's rollcall of tourist attractions doesn't end there though, as the city also hosts a wide variety of events and festivals throughout the year including the Film Festival and the Misteria Paschalia Festival.
Things to Do
Krakow manages to tick all the boxes when it comes to a city break, with everything from culture and heritage to a vibrant nightlife scene and great cuisine. This beautiful and culturally enriching city stands as a testament to the resilience of Poland following the Second World War and reflects many of the best features of Polish culture.
Krakow's quaint European architecture and sophisticated atmosphere makes the perfect setting for an early morning breakfast or brunch. The Rynek Glowny (or Main Square) is the beating heart of Old Town and is set over 10 square acres of land, making it Europe's largest market square. Here, you can enjoy a traditional Polish breakfast as you take in views of the pastel-toned buildings and 13th century Gothic architecture of the Town Hall Tower.
Whether you're a history lover or simply want to make the most of your time in Krakow, a visit to the Wieliczka Salt Mines is well worth your time. These historic salt mines have been in operation since the 13th century, showcasing a long route that travels past 20 immaculate chapels, a series of picturesque subterranean lakes and the remnants of historical mining industries. The salt mines are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list and remain one of Poland's top attractions with more than a million visitors each year.
Fit for a king
If you're keen to learn more about Poland's royal heritage and see architecture and antiquities fit for a king, visit the Royal Wawel Castle. This majestic building features scenic architecture, punchy bright colour schemes and a wonderful, extensive collection of art. Located on the left side of the Vistula River, the castle stands imposingly over the city on top of Wawel Hill, where you'll also find the city's iconic gold and blue cathedral ceilings.
The great outdoors
You can really make the most of your time in Krakow by taking a trip a bit further to the south of the city to the Winter Capital of Poland, Zakopane. This area of outstanding natural beauty is a real haven for skiers and snowboarders and has a number of slopes for all levels of ability as well as annual ski competitions.
One of the most important attractions not just in Poland but in the whole world, Auschwitz-Birkenau reflects the tragic holocaust resulting in the deaths of millions of Jews across Europe during the Second World War. Once you've ventured past the infamous "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign, which translates to "work makes you free", you'll come across the series of barracks, crematoria and gas chambers constructed by the Nazis.
Calendar of Events
Opting for a visit to Krakow gives you excellent value for money as you'll have access to not only the world class attractions and places of interest the city has to offer, but also the wide range of cultural events and festivals that take place in the city throughout the year. As you'd expect from Poland's cultural capital, the city hosts everything from concerts to festivals and fairs to concerts, dance parties and movie screenings.
- New Year. As in many countries, Poland marks the arrival of the New Year with huge open-air celebrations on the main Market Square in Krakow's centre. The night is celebrated with a range of concerts, with visitors and locals alike welcome. As you can generally expect snowfall around New Year, the city makes a magical setting for welcoming the New Year with a dusting of crisp white snow reflecting the Square's captivating light displays.
- International Festival of Jewish Culture. Each year in June Krakow hosts the International Festival of Jewish Culture: a popular festival which celebrates Jewish culture and heritage. June is a busy month in the city as in late June the city participates in the custom of Wianki (a traditional custom involving floating wreaths), which is now complemented by a big concert on the River Vistula.
- Music in Old Krakow Festival. Held each August, the Music in Old Krakow Festival is a real cultural highlight that draws in classical acts both from Poland and across the globe. This is an ideal way to enjoy music in stunning surroundings and meet music lovers from across Europe and the world.
- Christmas Market. As you'd expect from a main European city, Krakow's streets are lined with Christmas Stalls in December right through until the New Year. Christmas Market stalls are generally put up at the end of November and feature all the usual European Christmas traditions such as authentic foods, Christmas Crib competitions, music and dancing.